Dicksboro are Kilkenny’s senior hurling league champions for the second year in a row, but their title defence went right to the wire.
The ’Boro had to be at their accurate best to remain as champions as they needed penalties to beat their cross-town rivals O’Loughlin Gaels.
After more than 80 minutes of hurling that swung this way and that, the sides were locked on 1-20 apiece in UPMC Nowlan Park. With a winner needed on the day, it was down to penalties.
Dicksboro were ice-cool in the shoot-out and took a decisive lead when Shane Stapleton and Oisin Gough fired home unstoppable shots. Their goalkeeper Darragh Holohan was just as impressive, making a great save to stop Mark Bergin’s strike while Gaels goalkeeper Stephen Murphy saw his penalty come back off the bar. Another Holohan save, this time to deny Eoin O’Shea, handed Dicksboro the advantage. Aidan Nolan did the rest, delivering an expert finish to seal victory.
It was the final act in a closely-fought game where both sides battled for supremacy but couldn’t shake off their rivals for too long. The game was all square at 0-8 to 0-8 after the first half. Dicksboro saw two great goal chances met with fine saves Murphy, who denied Liam Moore and Aidan Nolan. Murphy also got his name on the O’Loughlin’s scoresheet, converting two lengthy frees with expert precision.
Dicksboro raised their game in the second half and took control of the scoreboard. At one stage their dominance saw them lead by six points (0-14 to 0-8), with Shane Stapleton (3) and Bill Sheehan (2) leading the way.
O’Loughlin’s were down, but not out. Inspired by sub Davy Burke’s goal they sparked into life in the final 15 minutes, Mark Bergin hitting five points (three from frees) to send the game to extra-time (1-13 to 0-16).
The drama didn’t let up in those 20 additional minutes. O’Loughlin’s looked to be on their way to victory when points from Bergin and Paddy Deegan pushed them ahead, but Aidan Nolan’s late goal swung the tie back in Dicksboro’s favour. They couldn’t hold on, however, as one last Bergin free levelled the game again and sent the teams to penalties.
Elsewhere the Shield spoils were picked up by Clara, who delivered an impressive second half performance to beat James Stephens by 1-22 to 0-12.
Beaten in the Shield decider last year, Clara took a huge step towards getting their hands on the title when Paul Cody broke through the Village defence to fire home a goal in the final seconds of the first half. It was a decisive score – at that stage the sides were level on 0-6 apiece – as it gave Clara a lead they would not relinquish.
Clara were determined not to let that advantage slip in the second half. Swarming around midfield they were able to win the possession battle and feed the ball forward to Chris Bolger. He was most impressive, combining speed and an eye for the posts as he hit seven points to add to one scored in the first half. It was too much for James Stephens, who rested a number of players including Luke Scanlon, Niall Brassil and Matthew Ruth for the game. Dinny Stapleton and Eoin Guilfoyle pushed their side on with some good points but Clara finished with a flourish from Peter Nolan, Martin O’Connell and Jason Byrne to secure victory.